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How to Read Faster

There is a problem about reading which could happen to everyone, there’s too
much to read these days, and too little time to read every word of it. Or, on the
contrary, there is much time to read, but the unfamiliarity with the words
discourages us to read more.
Actually, no one can teach anyone how to read, or even how to read more
efficiently, because reading is a complex cognitive skill which we cannot break
down into a series of steps that a teacher can take into a classroom and teach (Frank
Smith; 1994). But, anyone can learn to read and/or to read more effectively,
because, human beings are preprogrammed to perform language acts such as
listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and if provided with real opportunities, a
minimum of guidance, in a stimulating, non-threatening context, they can learn to
do these things with relative ease. Of course, the ability will vary among the
students, but everyone can learn and everyone can improve. Here, the teacher’s job
is to facilitate what is essentially a natural process, and to don this effectively, he
must develop some understanding of that process.
One that is very important for students is that reading is nothing without
understanding. The first thing to be understood about reading process is that
reading comprehension is not essentially different from other kinds of
comprehension. The mental task involved are not peculiar to reading but
fundamental human cognitive acts. Understand the reading material or
comprehension of any kind depends on knowledge. Comprehension means relating
what we don’t know, or new information, to what we already know, which is not a
random collection of facts but “a theory of the world” (Smith,1982:84) in each of
our heads called “cognitive structure”.
Assuming that a student does have a real interest in a subject, knows enough
about it, and knows the language well enough to make sense of the text, what will
he actually do when he reads it? What do any of us do? Common sense suggest that
we read by steadily moving our eyes across the page, identifying clusters of letters
of words, then adding word to word into phrases, clauses, and sentences which we
can, finally, decode for meaning. The truth is that we do not read like that at any
level (David E. Eskey, 1986). Instead we used our eyes to take in whole chunks of
text in a series of short, jerky fixation called saccades, and, eve more surprisingly,
the better readers we are, the less we actually see of the print on the page.
Reading is primarily s cognitive process (David E. Eskey, 1986), which
means that the brain does most of the work. In reading, that remarkable instrument
must, almost simultaneously, take in the information provided by the eyes, relate it
to what is already knows about the subject, and thereby construct a full meaning for
the text-which then becomes a part of what it knows about the subject and can thus
it turn be used to make sense of what comes next. In so doing the brain of the
reader makes use of the minimum number of visual cues required to convert
printed text to information, just as it does in identifying other objects of vision, like
streets, or buildings, or people that it knows. In none of these cases is there any
need for the observer to take in every detail that his eyes can see but rather just
enough to tell him whom or what he is observing. Thus the key to fluent reading is
not a kind of visual gymnastics but, “what the brain tells the eye” is much more

important than “what the eye tells the brain” (1971), provided that the brain has
acquired some skills in converting printed language into real language.
Confronted with people and objects that we know, we do recognize them
instantly, but confronted with less familiar (though equally visible) faces and
things, we are slower and less accurate in deciding whom or what we are looking
at. Similarly, readers who know the written language well can move from marks on
a page to words and phrases quickly, whereas those who do not know this language
well may, no matter how clearly they “see” the marks, fail to recognize, or
misidentify, the language these marks are meant to evoke. Efficient use of the eyes
in reading is not a matter of seeing some quantity of forms but of seeing what is
there (“in reading,” not “is reading” in this sentence) automatically, in a series of
fast and accurate fixations.
Here we are going to train our eyes and brain so they can work together
intensively, therefore we read efficiently and effectively. Although it was said that
the eye doesn’t need to be trained, but for the first step it is unavoidable.
There are hundreds of techniques you could learn to help you read faster and
there are of three that are especially good. They’ll give you the overall meaning of
what you’re reading. And let you cut out an awful lot of unnecessary reading. They
are commonsense, practical ways to get the meaning from printed words quickly
and efficiently. So you’ll have time to enjoy your comic books, have a good laugh
with Mark Twain, or a good cry with War and Peace. Ready?

1. Preview-If It’s Long and Hard

Previewing is especially useful for getting a general idea of heavy reading
like long magazine or newspaper articles, business reports, and nonfiction books.
It can give you as much as half the comprehension in as little as one- tenth the
time. For example, you should be able to preview eight or ten 100 page reports in
an hour. After previewing, you’ll be able to decide which reports (or which parts of
which reports) are worth a closer look.
Here’s how to preview: Read the entire first two paragraphs of whatever
you’ve chosen. Next read only the first sentence of each successive paragraph.
Then read the entire last two paragraphs.
Previewing doesn’t give you all the details. But it does keep you from
spending time on things you don’t really want-or need-to read. Notice that
previewing gives you a quick overall view of long, unfamiliar material. For short,
light reading, there’s a better technique.

2. Skim-If It’s Short and Simple

Skimming is a good way to get a general idea of light reading-like popular
magazines or the sports and entertainment sections of the paper.
You should be able to skim a weekly popular magazine or the second section
of your daily paper in less than half time it takes you to read it now.
Skimming is also a great way to review material you’re read before.
Here’s how to skim: Think of your eyes as magnets. Force them to move fast.
Sweep them across each and every line of type. Pick up only a few key words in
each line.
Everybody skims differently.

Some of us may not pick up exactly the same words when we skim the same
piece, but we’ll get a pretty similar idea of what it’s all about.
Skimming can give you a very good idea of this story in about half the words-
and in less than half the time it’d take to read every word.
So far, you’ve seen that previewing and skimming can give you a general
idea about content-fast. But neither technique can promise more than 50 percent
comprehension, because you aren’t reading all the words. (Nobody gets something
for nothing in the reading game.)
To read faster and understand most-if not all-of what you read, you need to
know a third technique.
3. Cluster-To Increase Speed and Comprehension
Most of us learned to read by looking at each word in a sentence-one at a
Like this:
You probably still read this way sometimes, especially when the words are
difficult. Or when the words have an extra-special meaning-in a poem, a
Shakespearean play, or a contract. And that’s O.K.
But word-by-word reading is a rotten way to read faster. It actually cuts down
on your speed.
Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time-to
increase your speed enormously. For most of us, clustering is a totally different
way of seeing what we read.
Here’s how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all the words in clusters of up to
three or four words at glance.
Learning to read cluster is not something your eyes do naturally. It takes
constant practice.
Here’s how to go about it. Pick something light to read. Read it as fast as you
can. Concentrate on seeing three or four words at once rather than one word at a
time. Then reread the piece at your normal speed to see what you missed the first
Try a second piece. First cluster, then reread to see what you missed in this
When you can read in clusters without missing much the first time, your
speed has increased. Practice fifteen minutes every day and you might pick up the
technique in a week or so. (But don’t be disappointed if it takes longer. Clustering
everything takes time and practice)
So now you have three ways to help you read faster. Preview to cut down on
unnecessary heavy reading. Skim to get a quick, general idea of light reading. And
cluster to increase your speed and comprehension. It is necessary to choose your
method of reading according to the kind of material you have to read and the
amount of comprehension you need.
With enough practice, you’ll be able to handle more reading at school or
work-and at home-in less time. You should even have more enough time to read
your favourite comic books-and War and Peace!
(Bill Cosby for International Paper)